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Drawing from the Icelandic Sagas, The Half-Drowned King takes inspiration from the true story of Ragnvald of Maer, the right-hand man of King Harald Fairhair, first king of all Norway, and his sister, Svanhild, as she tries to find freedom in a society where the higher her brother rises, the greater her worth as a political pawn.
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By Simon on 08-04-17
Patience is a Viking.
The first book of Linnea Hartsuyker’s Norway trilogy begins as it means to go on. There is a real depth of knowledge that shines through from start to finish but there is also a curious balancing act in that major, exciting events seem to be given the same depth and treatment as the more mundane ones. The opening for example is an exciting oar race followed by a key act of betrayal and yet you could almost blink and miss the key moment.
The story focuses on the dual story of a brother and sister forging separate paths for themselves in a beautifully detailed Norse realisation. Hartsuyker brings out the casual violence and hardness of this civilisation, the often strange sense of honour and curious legal and religious practices. She describes good action and an epic cast of characters strides through her tale.
Lots of authors have done all this of course but where Hartsuyker is a little different is that she also follows the lot of a number of female characters without immediately turning them into warriors of Freya or similar. Here there is a different kind of bravery, honour and resilience and to my mind the biggest success of the book was in bringing this out. The precarious and often very tough nature of their lives is as big a part of the book as the battles and the strife between kings and their men.
Mr Keeble is well suited to this kind of book and does a fine job but I don’t think the overall package is perfect. I have seen it compared to Game of Thrones by quite a number of other reviewers which I think is a little dubious, not quite comparing apples with apples. Certainly it’s not as bright or fast-moving as that or say other recent Viking sagas such as those by Giles Kristian. It doesn’t hit you with such vivid action as those with a lot of the key moments described in a relatively dispassionate manner.
In all I think if you really do want those kind of fast-paced stories this may not satisfy, it has plenty of action but Hartsuyker is clearly patient and wants to convey a lot more than that. She has certainly done enough to entice me into following the complete trilogy as it unfolds.
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